tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera June 14, 2014 5:00pm-5:31pm EDT
aljazeera.com. thanks for watching. . >> the best solution for us, for the americans, is to deal with the terrorism threat that is an immediate problem. >> for the last four years, he's been america's man in syria. >> that's until ambassador robert ford resigned because he found it too difficult to justify u.s. policy. >> i don't say this is easy, and i don't say it's automatic but i say the alternative of doing nothing is even worse. >> the brutality of the assad government and the extremist elements of the opposition have
left the outside world with no good choices, he says. i strongly advocate identifying reliable groups and getting them the wherewithal. >> can be cash and ammunition. >> next door in iraq, where ford served as well, alarm grows as an al-qaeda offshoot seizes control of the second largest city. >> we have a large space of territory. >> that's controlled largely by this islamist extremist group. >> we are meeting at a time when the islamic state in iraq in lavant has taken over mosul. not only the second largest city but gee gravellingcally, ethnically, reledgeously, a key city in the country. >> absolutely. >> what do you make of this development? >> i think it's extremely serious. as you mentioned, mu mosul is, commercially on the trade routes
between aleppo and the med trainian and it is a very important city historically. it's a large city and it's very important as a city where kurdish parts of iraq come in to contact, the fault line, with sunni arab elements and there is a s shiia population. >> a relatively small force of isil and related and supporting militias. >> uh-huh. >> took over a big city. the iraqi army evaporated. what does that tell you about the tate of play, both in baghdad and in the ongoing efforts to stand up national institutions? >> well, this was something when i was in iraq for five years, our team was working on all of the time, and it was a tough job then and it's clearly still a tough job. i don't understand fully the military operations that occurred in ninevah and mosul but the fighting apparently
lasted for four or five days, casualties on all sued. but in the end, the iraqi army was forced to withdraw from the second largest city in the country. >> is absolutely a concern. it comes at a difficult time in iraq, too, because there was an election and now the different political blocks are beginning to discuss how to form a new governme government. the burst on the scene really upsets a lot of clanks which touch on the very formation of a government in baghdad. >> the prime minister asked the parliament for emergency powers? >> exactly. >> now you speak as a private citizen, should they get it. >>. i think the question will be: what will he do with it? because the problems in iraq are not only military problems. there is a political issue to deal with. for a long time, for several years, the islamic state of iraq
in lavan was basically under control and on its back heels because during that time, there were sunni arabs in places like ramada and fallujah and muosul that were fighting them. it seems they aren't fighting them so much now. they must have some political reasons for not fighting them. and so it is important as we do this formation of a new government in baghdad, that the concerns of the supni arab community be addressed so they can put down this islamic state of iraq threat, not just to the shiia in iraq, but a threat to kurds and they are vicious, brutal with their own greg ren. they are a threat to all of the community. >> we are talking about a country the united states has spent a lot of time action a lot of treasurer, a lot of blood in
iraq. >> uh-huh. >> and is now watching across oceans and continents as the country seems to be did you say integrating? >> there is an element of disunity within iraq, itself, still divisions between the kurds and sunni airabs and sh shhiia. you can't paper over this. they have to be dealt with gradually, slowly but there has to be progress. it's a little bit fixing political problems is a little bit like riding a bicycle. you don't have to go very fast but you have to keep moving, maintain credibility by always moving treat a little bit. as they look forward in baghdad and setting up a new government after the elections, ag reform program, i think, will be an essential element to address the concerns of the different communities. all of them have reasons to be
afraid. the shiia have been attacked many times. dement that the islamic state is overrunning places in the northwest. the kurds suffered an attack. all of the communities are afraid they node to agree on a way to address some of the underlying political issues in the country. at the same time they deal militarily on the fwhoupd >> after decades as a diplomat, after decades of speaking for the government that you serve, are you getting used to the idea you can talk for yourself? >> absolutely. it's important as we look at these issues to understand what governments are doing and to be able to comment on them, hope, it provides some understanding both to officials and to private american citizens. i do home people watching the
program understand the threat posed not just to people in mosul or baghdad but especially with the vacuum that has opened up in eastern syria, we now have a large space of territory. historically, in arab history, it was sort of one desert entity called el jazerra. that is controlled by the islamic group. until yemen and mali and afghanistan, it's a warning that they can use the open space to bring in people to train outside syria and iraq whether it be against target did in western europe or north america, in the middle east. it's really a danger to everyone. >> i am with ambassador robert ford. when we come back, we will take a crosser look at an area of his resent expertise after years of
you are watching "talk to al jazeera." i am with robert ford who ended his time as u.s. ambassador to syria. while retiring from the foreign service, made public your own thoughts about the way things have gone over the last several years. once it was clear that bashar al assad meant to staytiously that when this is all over, he still means to be president of syria. was there any other way this could have gone against the determined opposition? >> it's a question that i ask myself all the time, to be honest. when i was in syria in 2011, and the peaceful protest movement started, they actually did not immediately demand that president assad resign or quit the political scene. they actually, it started over
some police mistreatment of some children in a place called darda in southern syria. the local protesters wanted the authorities to be held canable. unfortunately, one of those authorities was a cousin of the assad. while he removed him, he didn't punish him in any way. the recommending e-mails then resort to force, escalated to where the opinion stilt, which had started very peacefully, gang to shoot back, really in self defense. as i look back on the last couple of years, there was a time, i think, where the extremist element that is very present in syria now. right? i want to be clear about that. there is an extremist element in the opposition. but it wasn't there right at the beginning. it is a wasn't very strong right at the beginning. there was a competition between the more moderate let's and the more extreme elements. the moderate elements, frankly were not well-if you wanted. the extremist elements had financing from different parts
of the region, from the gulf, from europe. the mod rants didn't have that. they couldn't recruit. when you are talking about a civil war, when you are talking about groups forming, it's about recruitment. extremists, unfortunately, were much better at recruitment. had there been more help to the moderates earlier on, i think the recruitment by the extremeit would have been more limited and hence, their influence. >> was it clear at the time, though? because i spoke to policy makers who locked at the array of forces. and it was quite a range. >> uh-huh. >> of people who were begun to go line up against assad? >> uh-huh. >> some were unsavory characters. some were talking the democratic game today but had some things in their past that might not be a great resume for receiving american help. was it clear who to help, how the help would be used and that it wouldn't eventually come back to the bite the u.s. who has a bad history with just that kind of aid? >> i take the point that we don't always choose very well
and our intervention in iraq, with the people we supported in 2003 is a case in point. i accept that. i have two comments on that, though, re: first i think there were some credible people on the ground who were not extremist fighters and who we came to know reasonably well during the first half of 2012, and i think they at least should have been given a chance and second, the alternative of standing back and watching also has not served our interests very well. what has happened is the extremists have succeeded in implanting themselves in a deep way in the syrian opposition. they now control large swaths of northern and eat earn syria and standing back and not helping forces that are willing to fight them also doesn't work. and so you don't say this is easy. and i don't say it is automatic, but i say that the alternative
of doing nothing is even worse. so, i think we need to roll up sleeves. we need to sit down with opposition group leaders and explain to them what we are willing to support and what we are not willing to support, put conditions down, and i do mean conditions. and then judge them on the basis of their acts on the ground, not just what they say in some youtube video. what are they doing on the ground? we have a pretty good ability to track that. >> people who want to help syrians, people who want to see the end of this story be the departure of bashar al assad looked , looked at some of these forces, traveled to east istanbul and spoke to opposition forces and came back scratching their heads in some cases, disorganized, no political program, unclear lines of silty and leadership. was the opposition doing itself
a lot of favors during that time? >> no >> when we were looking around for how to involve ourselves? >> also yeah. i have met with the opposition, the political opposition leadership based in turkey. i met them many, many, many times. i have high regard for their dedication and their sincerity. i do think it is important that they argue less about leadership of the organization amongst themselves and that they focus a great deal more attention on what's happening inside the country. i don't think they are being -- their being in istanbul at this points if useful. i think they would be better, much more effective were they better i am planted on the groundnids sir i cant because what's syria? a lot of dedicated activists who are struggling to keep clean water running an hour or two a day in towns where the regime's forces withdrew long ago.
where the regime hasn't provided medical help to anyone for years. they are struggling to keep schools opening struggling to have police so that there is so there is an element of law and order, struggling to have a court system operate. the political opposition leadership? istanbul needs to be tied into that. they need to be supportive. they don't need to try to micro manage it. i don't think the people inside syria are going to be mile row managed that way. that's another thing that has come out of what they call a revolution. there is a new level of decentralization in the way syrians manage themselves, organize and manage themselves. so but the opposition certainly, especially if they want more assistance from us, they, themselves are going to have to implement changes among their own ranks. >> was the obama administration informed by a certain risk version and war weariness that
comes out of that part of the world and our experience in the 21st century? >> i don't think it's just the obama administration. last september, i went up to capitol hill many times with other members of the add miles per hourstration to talk to the congress about the assad's register e-mail of certainon gas on august 21st, that that had cross add red line and the u.s. needed to respond specifically but with force. and i have to tell you that although there were some members of the united states senate who were supportive, there were many who were not supportive and in the house of representatives, it was a real uphill battle. there were some very contentious hearings, some involved secretary kerry. it's not just the obama administration that's been careful about how to react to syria. there is a real hesitation among large segments of the congress and live in baltimore. i don't live in washington.
you have to tell you, when i talk to people in my neighborhood at my church in baltimore, they are very reluctant to get involved in syria. i think that's why in answer to a question before the break, i said it's important for people to understand mistakes. it's it's important for americans to understand there is a real and growing terrorism problem in syria and now, very visibly in the last few days, also in iraq. >> let's talk about that when we come back. the civil war in syria has been deadly, cruel, distrustive but not only inside syria. this civil war has effects that spill over into neighboring countries. you are watching "talk to al jazeera" with ambassador robert ford. stay with us.
effects from what's going on next door in syria. is it more in some of those cases at least than merely inconvenience? something that's more dangerous than that? >> it puts a huge strain on their economy. turksey a country of over 80 million people and they are better able to provide the support, although even in turkey, it's a strain. but when you think that perhaps one in three people now physically today standing inside the borders of lebanon, one in three is a syrian refugee, can you is imagine the strain that's put on a small country. imagine if there were 110, 120 million refuges in the united states and so it's hard on lebanon and in jordan, they have 660, almost 700,000 refugees registered and hundreds of thousands more you know registered. so that the number is well over a million. and again, in a small country, and so puts pressure on housing
prices. it puts pressure on wages and the job markets because syrians will work. they are desperate. they will work more cheaply than the local workers, puts pressure on a sensitive place like jordan. water is a big issue in jordan. you have a lot more, a million more people so it's hard on all of those countries trees. one thing which we were paying attention to when i left the government was that seemed urgent was to get more help in to lebanon and secretary kerry went to lebanon and announced another $29 million in american aid for refugees writ large, not only in lebanon but you know, ray, we are now at $2,000,000,000. america has provided more than anyone. we should be proud of that. where is this going to stop? the answer is it is not going to stop until the fighting in syria stops and these people have some prospect, some of them of going
hole. >> is there a perverse inceptive that comes into play if you are standing in the rubble of a proven cial town in syria and you know there are rows of clean tents and armed guards that will keep you and your kids safe because you figure chances are better there? >> i think it will depend upon what resources are availabto ra to rebuild. i can easily imagine, for example, we are fighting to stop in larges segments the young men, the fathers, the brothers might leave the sisters, the wives and the young children back at the camps and they, themselves would go back to try to rebuild homes, maybe to restart some kind of business. will they have access to credit, liquids funds? a great many of the rove huge ease are destitute. middle class families have expended all of their savings living in refugees camps or
living on the local economy, jordan and elsewhere. i have to say if bashar al-assad stays, if out of this negotiation, if there is a negotiation, if there is ever is and he stays, it is very difficult for me to imagine where the financing to rebuild syria will come from because i cannot imagine under the current circumstances that the saudi arabians and the gulf states will provide a lot of money to help bash arrest al-assad to rebuild syria. they won't do it. >> you have been very critical off united states policy toward syria over the last several years talking about missed opportunities, misreading of the situation on the ground. now that we are very we are for better or worse, what's the u.s. play from here on out? >> the best solution for us, for the americans, is to deal with this terrorism there is that is an immediate problem.
a young man from from a blew himself up in a suicide car attack in syria. one day, if even only one, 2, 3% of the western citizens of western country citizens go back to their home countries and do bad things, we are going to have a problem because there are thousands of foreign fighters nowed in syria fighting in the civil war. so our best and most immediate thing is to address that terrorism problem. however, the people that are fighting the islamic state inside syria are the free syrian army first and foremost. >> that's why i strongly advocate identifying reliable groups. got a pretty good idea who some might be and then getting them the wherewithal that can be cash and ammunition. >> that's what the extremist originally used to recruit peep. it could be weapons so that they can hit syrian airports because helicopters are dropping barrel
bombs on civilian areas. if there was a way to put those airports out of commission so that they could no longer be used for those kind of air raids, that would jolt, that would jolt the syrian military's confidence and it may be help us get back to a negotiating table and so we have to deal with the tear threat and get to a negotiating table to sec get a new syrian government that will be able to rally all syrians, supporters of the regime and the opposition, rally all of them against this islamic state of iraq and the laughant threat. >> the syrian con conflict has implicated places far beyond the middle east. so the united states has its positions that it's taken, intervened very heavily on the side of getting the chemical weapons out of there. china has a stated position. russia has long-time alliances with the damascus government. iran has interests that are being expressed right now.
there is the sunni-shiia rift and an interesting wild card in the states of the gulf. they are small. they are rush. they are run by small leadership silks and are able to independently, without having to worry about voters and parliaments make large bets one way or the other. >> uh-huh. >> what kind of influence have they had in the shifting alliances, the supply of rebel ar armies and this struggle. >> yeah. >> between tehran, baghdad, cairo, damascus and other places? >> your question is spot-on. it's right on the mark. i have been talking a lot about what to do about the groups inside syria and how to manage, how to manage that. there is the other element of this, which is the regional situation where syria now, for better or worse, is a civil war but it's also a regional proxy war where iran is helping their allies inside syria, the syrian
government, bashar al-assad and countries that don't like assad like saudi arabia or who are staunchly pro-sunni, like the turks, are helping the opposition so as part of any agreement that comes out of a negotiation, absolutely action countries like turkey and saudi arabia and iran and more broadly, russia, who certainly has interest in syria and is a player, all of them are also going to have to be brought on board with whatever negotiated deal there is. in a perfect world, in a perfect world, those outside players like russia, like iran, like saudi arabia, like turkey would help get to the negotiation and would help make the negotiation to create a new government, they would make that negotiation succeed. >> that's what we were hoping for at the geneva peace talks about syria in january and
february. but unfortunately, the russians who we had put a great deal of faith in either were unable or unwilling to get the syrian government to discuss a transition government. the sec tear general of the united nations invitation to the geneva peace talks specifically said it was to discuss and negotiate standing up a nutrition government. the syrian government refused to do that once it got to geneva and the russians were unable convince the syrian government to alter that stanchion. >> ambassador robert ford, thank you for joining us on "al jazeera america ". >> my pleasure. thank you. >> i am thomas drayton, a rebel advance on baghdad stalls. we will giet the latest on the violence in iraq and the movement on the ground in baghdad. retaliation in eastern ukraine.
army air strikes are hitting back after pro-pro-russian fighters shoot down a transport plane. israel's army searching for three teenagers including an american who may have been kidnapped. >> and more state ahead on al jazeera america. >> i am lisa flechaer. you are in the stream. today, what you wash your face with may be contaminating the country's water and fish. why one state has banned products with micro beads piling up by the billions in the great lakes. how consumer pressure led one of the largest producers to abandoned a controversial practice that will confines pregnant pigs their entire lives. >> air pollution does more than damage hearts and hundreds. it has real impact. we discuss a new study that could link autism and skits phren i can't to toxic air particles.